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Review: Steer clear from ridiculous and screwy horror fiasco 'Separation'

Courtesy of Open Road Films


Everyone looks lost and confused in William Brent Bell’s inept “Separation.” It was as if the actors realized half-way through the script had dozens of unexplained coincidences, laughable spurts of cheesy dialogue, and a crate of spooky protagonists rejected from the Blumhouse factory and passed over by the creators of “The Conjuring.” Theatrical exhibitors starving for fresh, exclusive content should welcome this easily accessible, though narrative discombobulated fiasco, but the real losers are those who think this should be the “one” that welcomes them back to theaters. It’s almost an insult.

Bell has been down this path before and I sat in a movie theater on opening night watching his “The Devil Inside” in a furious rage with the sold out crowd around me. We had been duped into another lousy found-footage film with zero spark or flavor. “The Boy” was an improvement if only because the bar was exceedling low (plus Lauren Cohen ruled). None such inventiveness or inspired casting exists (save for maybe Brian Cox) in “Separation,” a cheap thriller tossed into a starving marketplace without the courtesy of a disclaimer: May cause irritation.

The film, an obvious ghost story where a little girl sees spirits hiding in the shadows and enjoys playing with porcelain dolls, peaks in the opening credits with crafty sketches of these creatures. It’s a bait and switch because you won’t see these creations once the movie starts and “Separation” settles into the lives of struggling cartoonist Jeff (Rupert Friend) and his adorable daughter, Jenny (Violet McGraw). At the start, we’re thrusted in the midst of a brutal custody battle where Jeff’s overzealous and oddly tyrannical wife Maggie (Mamie Gummer) - saying phrases like “she’s mine!” and “I’ll make sure you never see her again!” - is trying to relocate. I never understood why Maggie was so harsh towards Jeff. From what I could tell, in the first twenty minutes at least, the dude genuinely seemed to love his kid.

So when Maggie gets obliterated in a graphic and bloody hit and run, a part of me was relieved Jeff would get full custody of his daughter, but then malevolent apparitions latch themselves onto Jenny and we’re reminded this is a horror film (poor Jeff, the dude can’t catch a break). Naturally, the father-daughter duo see ghostly manifestations throughout their gorgeous townhouse, but those looking for something terrifying will realize within the first hour these “Woman in Black” knock-offs are as good as it gets.

Adding insult to injury, Jeff’s psychotic father-in-law (a grizzled, needed-something-to-do between seasons of “Succession” Brian Cox) gives him 72 hours to hand over his granddaughter or else! Cox is cashing an easy paycheck, and his dialogue provokes more jolts than any quick jump cut or cheap musical cue could muster. Likewise for Madeline Brewer, playing the plucky eyed babysitter, who genuinely looks like she’s in a different movie because none of her motivations make sense until the final frame and even then. Woof.

Screenwriters Nick Amadeus and Josh Bruan do a piss-poor job of taking the audience on a worthwhile journey. You never miss blatant jump scares until you’re one hour into a film and the need to feel something, anything, is prevalent. As a divorce drama and horror movie combined, “Separation” logistically is all over the place. Jeff never becomes a better father or connects with Jenny on a human level; instead he’s just contending with those trying to pry her away from him (hence the title). There’s truth baked in “Seperation” about facing the demons of fatherhood, but as the title suggests, it’s best to detach yourself from this dopey and lazy piece of filmmaking.

Grade: D

SEPARATION opens in theaters Friday, April 30th


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